January 13, 2022

What is the purpose of Science?

Objectives

  1. Why Max Weber?
  2. Possible answers to “what is value of science”?
  3. Weber’s insights about what science is/is not
  4. Weber’s answer: what is the value of science

Max Weber. German. 1864-1920

Science as Vocation

What is the value of science?

Answer 1?

Science can reveal (God(s), Nature, Truth) that unite what exists (what is) with what is right (what ought) and gives our lives meaning.


  • Weber says: “Not a chance.”

Insight 1

Compared to “theology” (unscientific forms of thought), science only assumes that objective factual truths about our world exist and, but otherwise all knowledge or claims are open to scrutiny or challenge

Insight 1

What do we mean by objective?

  • there exists a world that is independent of our subjective perceptions
  • it is possible to reach answers about what exists and the causes of phenomena in this world do not depend on the idiosyncrasies of an individual researcher
  • but the questions we investigate may be subjective

Insight 1

What do we mean by theology?

In “theology”: specific facts/values are taken as “revelation” or “faith” and cannot be questioned; other values /facts must be made to fit them

  • “Theology” can be religious but also secular (e.g. some forms of capitalist or communist ideology)

Insight 1

What do we mean by “assumptions open to challenge”

  • Concepts
  • Procedures

Answer 2?

Ok. So maybe…

Scientific knowledge and mastery over our lives leads to happiness.

Answer 2?

Weber throws shade :“Who believes this? Aside from a few big children in university chairs and editorial offices.”

Insight 2:

“Science is meaningless because it gives no answer to our question: the only question important for us: What shall we do and how shall we live?” - Tolstoi


  • Weber’s point: science cannot resolve questions about value

What is the best music?

What is the best music?

Think, then write down…

  • genre, artist, or song

What is the best music?

In breakout rooms, discuss your beliefs about the best music.

Discuss: how would you prove who is right… scientifically?

What is the best music?

What can science do?

Insight 3

Science is a form of knowledge concerned with prediction

  • It can tell us: if we take this action, what will happen

Answer 3?

Science is valuable in itself because it increases objective knowledge


  • Weber still says NO!

Insight 4

Science is not “value-free”. We use values to decide what is worthwhile to know about.


  • “More to know than can ever be known” - “The Circle of Life” by Tim Rice
  • Humans decide which questions to answer, informed by our values
  • Are these values/choices correct?

how, and why, wombats make cube-shaped faeces

measuring scrotal temperature asymmetry in naked and clothed postmen in France